How To Prevent Hiking Blisters

Imagine wandering through incredible landscapes lush with wildlife and wildflowers, but you’re seeing none of it because all your attention is concentrated on a tiny circle of hell forming on your foot. Hiking Blisters are the devil and can cause great pain if you don’t know how to treat them. Sadly, even if you do know how to treat them, they could still cause you pain. But with the proper care and prevention tips, the pain will be a whole lot less – if at all.

I have heard many people admit that blisters are the reason they don’t embark on longer hikes and aren’t game enough to try multi-day hiking as a result. This hurt me to hear so I gathered all my tips and asked fellow hiker friends for even more tricks to add to my bag in order to deliver this ultimate guide on how to avoid and treat blisters when hiking. 

While blisters are more common with hiking boots, this doesn’t mean you’re clear of danger if you wear trail runners or hiking shoes. After time on the trail, your feet are going to rub no matter your shoe choice, so listen up!

What Is A Hiking Blister And How Is It Formed?

Let’s start at the beginning. In order to prevent and properly treat a blister, it’s important to understand what it is and how the evil things come about.

A blister is a pocket of fluid that forms in the upper layers of skin and is the body’s response to friction or pressure. Basically, as friction or pressure occurs to the skin, the thick outer layers begin to tear away from the sensitive inner layers and fluid fills the space. Moisture and heat speed up the process of a blister if there is already a friction or pressure point. 

Recognising A Hotspot

A ‘hotspot’ occurs when the friction has begun but before the tear. At this point, the layers are moving against each other, causing a warm sensation at the source. This can usually be seen as a red mark on the skin and is your first sign of a blister approaching.

If you can act fast once you discover a hotspot, you have a much higher chance of avoiding a full blown blister. If you’re feeling pressure or rubbing on your foot, stop and fix the situation right away. The worst thing you can do is leave it until it becomes unbearable. By that time, you’ve missed your chance of avoiding the worst of the pain.

But even before the point of a hotspot and blister prevention on the trail, there are initial steps we can take to help avoid blisters while hiking altogether. 

Standing at the peak of The Castle in the Budawangs in Trail runners without blisters

How To Prevent Hiking Blisters – Before The Trail

Make Sure Your Boots Or Shoes Fit Properly

Badly fitted hiking boots, shoes or trail runners is one of the most common reasons that blisters occur which, lucky for us, is an easy fix. If your boots are too tight or too loose, your chances of pressure or friction occurring is increased. 

Avoid buying hiking boots or shoes online unless you’ve tried them on previously. Go into a store and chat with the retail assistant. Ask as many questions as you can think of and be sure to let them know if you’ve had any bad experiences previously or if you have foot issues such as flat feet or bunions. 

As a rule of thumb, your boots should fit snug without feeling too tight. You should be able to wiggle all your toes comfortably without touching the toe of your hiking boot, but your heel shouldn’t slip or pull up. If you’re planning to go shoe shopping, go at the end of the day when your foot is swollen and bring along your best pair of hiking socks.

Don’t Forget To Break In Your Hiking Boots

This is mostly directed at hiking boots, especially leather boots that need to stretch. Begin by wearing them around the house with a thick pair of socks on, adding in insoles if you’re planning to wear them on a hike.

Once they’re feeling comfortable around the house, wear your new boots on a number of short walks. Start with walks around your block and then venture further into terrain similar to that you’ll be using them for. 

Build up the kilometres slowly, making sure to locate areas of concern before embarking on longer hikes.

If after a few hikes, there is a spot that is causing pressure or increased friction, you may want to go a step further and mould your boots.

Mould Your Boots To Prevent Hiking Blisters

Just like with a pair of ski boots, you can mould your boots to fit your feet perfectly. If you have tried to break them in and they’re still niggling in a certain area, some heat treatment and stretching of the material can fix the problem.

To mould your hiking boots, heat the inside of your boots with a hair dryer and then use a blunt round object to massage the spot you wish to stretch. There are specific balms or oils you can use on leather boots to increase the efficiency of this task. For these, add a bit of the oil or balm to the area causing pressure and massage with the blunt round object.

Trekking in my leather hiking boots through a frozen puddle correctly fitted to avoid hiking blisters

Apply Self Adhesive Patches To Your Shoes

If you’ve found that rubbing seems to be inevitable in your shoes, you can apply a self adhesive patch to the inside of your boot where you’ve noticed friction. This will reduce the friction by allowing your foot a small amount of movement across a smoother surface and an extra barrier between your boot and your skin. 

Cut Your Toenails

This tip is super simple, but one that can cause a great deal of uncomfort if you forget. Your toenails can hit the edge of your boots and cause bruising in your nail beds. This isn’t necessarily blister care, but while we are on the subject of feet and hiking, I thought I would chuck it in!

I’ve seen some horrific examples of toenails becoming ingrown and causing major pain. Long nails either resulting in swelling and oozing toes or the loss of a nail altogether… not fun my friends.

How To Prevent Hiking Blisters By Wearing The Right Socks

Firstly, cotton has no place in the hiking world so ditch the blessed cotton socks. You need a material that is moisture wicking and soft to aid in your goal to prevent hiking with blisters. Materials that are great for hiking socks to prevent blisters are merino wool, polyester, or nylon.

Merino wool is my favourite as they’re super soft and the least smelly after a long day on the trail.

Thin liner socks are another option to increase your chances of avoiding blisters when hiking. Personally, I have never used liner socks but they are basically a thin sock made of either silk, merino wool, polyester or nylon worn under your thicker socks to help avoid friction.

Whether they are necessary or not I have yet to decide. However, they are very small and light so if you’re not sure your hiking socks are going to cut the mustard, it might be worthwhile chucking a pair in just in case.

Don’t underestimate the importance of equipping yourself with the correct sock. Through some trial and error at my own expense, I have found the best hiking socks to prevent blisters are the Smartwool Hiking Socks.

Use Hiking Poles To Help Prevent Hiking Blisters

This may not be an obvious one and I’m sure you are doubting me but hear me out…

We know that blisters when hiking are formed by friction between your foot and boot and if you rely solely on your feet to carry all of your weight, this adds to the stress placed on these hotspots. By using poles to assist in walking, you are reducing the load on these pressure points and indirectly reducing the chance of a blister forming.

Ok, this may not be the best method on how to prevent hiking blisters, and if used alone will definitely not be sufficient enough. But since I’ve started frequently using hiking poles, I’ve noticed a decline in blisters. Even on those multi-day hikes – such as the Freycinet Peninsula Circuit and Hannels Spur – where blisters for me are generally unavoidable, it helps to prolong the process or, at the very least, alleviates some of the pain when a blister has formed.

Hiking in Cradle Mountain in my Smartwool hiking socks to avoid hiking blisters surrounded by snow capped mountains

How To Treat Hiking Blisters – On The Trail

Tie Your Laces Up Just Right

When you tie your laces, you want to make sure there aren’t any pressure points. These mostly occur at the top of your foot but can cause blisters on the sides and pads of your feet. You want your feet to be comfortable while still maintaining a tight enough shoe to stop your heel slipping.

To tie up your laces properly, kick the heel of your boot against the ground to get your foot placed as far back as possible. From there, tie up the laces nice and snug. If you don’t push your foot all the way back it will start to slide as soon as you begin to walk.

Keep Your Feet Dry To Prevent Hiking Blisters

As I mentioned earlier, blisters thrive in wet conditions. If your foot is sweaty or wet, the friction will increase along with the chance of a blister. Make sure to keep your feet dry by choosing the right socks, taking your shoes and socks off when crossing rivers and drying them well before putting your shoes back on. 

Make sure to change your socks if they do get wet or too sweaty. And as a result, always bring extra pairs of socks with you! If your feet become sweaty, let your feet air before putting the new pair on.

Let Your Feet Take A Breath

When you stop for a break, give your feet a break as well. Take your shoes and socks off and let your feet breathe and air out. Even if they don’t feel wet, this could be a beneficial task and frankly, it feels good! 

Obviously, be careful not to stand on anything sharp or graze your foot in any way because even though blisters are the devil, cuts and grazes would be worse! 

Keep Your Shoes And Feet Clean

Ok, I know this is almost impossible but the point is, if your shoes fill with debris from the trail, take the time to empty them out. Brush your feet off if you’ve been frolicking in the sand or wandering around barefoot. 

Just be diligent in ensuring your feet and shoes are as clean as possible to avoid rubbing. One tiny little speck of dirt could work its way into a painful blister if you let it linger long enough.

Apply A Non-Friction Barrier To Your Foot

If you’ve still noticed a sneaky hotspot appear even after all the above steps, there is still hope for you. You can apply a non-friction barrier to your feet to stop the friction. This can either be in the form of adhesive tape, vaseline, or in dire circumstances – duct tape.

how to prevent hiking blisters with fixomull adhesive tape in Cradle Mountain National Park

Adhesive Tape or Duct Tape

I personally suffer from heel blisters when hiking no matter what shoes I choose, if I don’t use an extra form of prevention that is. I put fixomull stretch tape (adhesive tape) onto my heels at the beginning of a hike to prevent the rubbing that is inevitable.

The best thing about adhesive tape is it’s multi-functional, which is a huge bonus for hiking with a heavy pack. 

Make sure to round the edges of this and duct tape to avoid the edges peeling up.

Buy Fixomull Stretch Tape from Amazon

Duct Tape

Duct tape is a super valuable item when hiking and a great alternative if you don’t have any adhesive tape with you. Just be careful not to rip it off before getting off the trail, it can hurt a bit!

Duct tape can also be used to fix shoes if they break, to plug a hole in your sleeping bag or sleeping mat, or to cover a rip in your clothing. The best way to store duct tape is to wind it around your water bottle. This enables it to be handy any time of the day to quickly rip off a bit and apply to the problem.

Vaseline

If you don’t have duct tape or adhesive tape of any kind, another alternative is vaseline or paw paw. I was given this epic tip from a friend who used this technique when playing rugby to avoid blisters.

It uses the same principle of helping to create smooth movement between the sock, skin and shoe. Simply lather your known affected area with vaseline, as well as the inside of your shoe and your sock.

Climbing up a steep rock slab in the Budawangs on The Castle Hike with hiking blisters

How To Care For Hiking Blisters

So you practiced all the above tips but that little circle of hell still managed to break through. Unfortunately, pain is imminent at this point. But it doesn’t have to be excruciating. If you dress your blister properly, you can minimise the pain.

The first debate here is whether to pop your blister or not. Many will tell you absolutely not. But through extensive research, I have found some great counter arguments for popping.

If you’re on a day hike and the end is in sight, I would suggest not popping the blister as it will heal better if it’s intact with the natural healing properties of the fluid doing its job. However, if you’ve got days to go then popping is the best option. The reason being, there is a very slim chance of the blister staying intact and if you pop it in a controlled environment where you can dress it straight after, you have less chance of a gross sock and a potentially inflamed blister. 

In both circumstances of popping or not popping, the way to dress your blister is the same from step 4.

  1. Sterilize a pin with an alcohol swab and pop the bottom of your blister.
  2. Gently massage the fluid out, beginning from the top.
  3. If you have access to antiseptic cream or vaseline, rub some onto the blister. 
  4. Make a donut shape out of moleskin or a similar piece of thick material that you can make into a donut shape. You can use part of a rubber mat or toilet paper if you get desperate. Press the donut against the skin so that it makes a circle around the blister.
  5. Use either duct tape or adhesive tape (such as fixomull stretch) to cover the blistered area, leaving space provided by the donut around the blister for it to breathe. 
  6. Round the edges of the tape to avoid it peeling up.

You can also buy specific hydrocolloid blister bandages that have a healing fluid sac that goes directly over the blister to help it to heal and reduce pain.

Buy Hydrocolloid blister bandages from Amazon

Hiking blister full of fluid after a long walk in Tasmania

List of Equipment to Bring for Hiking Blister Care

This is a list of all the equipment I have suggested that can help with blister care. You can choose to take some or all of the items listed below. But make sure to take alcohol swabs, a pin and at least one of the tape options.

Splashing through Spirey Creek in the Warrumbungle National Park

Blisters are kind of like a rite of passage in the hiking world. I can almost guarantee every hiker you talk to has had their share of blisters. But that shouldn’t deter you from taking on a mighty adventure. 

Once you understand your feet and where you’re prone to blisters, you can prevent them and give yourself the best chance possible of avoiding hiking blisters for good. If you have any unanswered questions about blister care, please feel free to ask in the comments below. And if you’ve got another trick to avoid blisters, we want to hear it!

How to prevent hiking Blisters Pinterest Pin